Universiteit Leiden

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VVI Research Meetings 2022-2023

In the Shadow of the Constitution: the Micropolitics of Constitutionalism in Cambodia

Wednesday 24 May 2023
Kamerlingh Onnes Building
Steenschuur 25
2311 ES Leiden

Written during an internationalised peace process that saw the country administered by a United Nations Transitional Authority for 18 months, Cambodia’s 1993 Constitution is ostensibly guided by principles of liberal democracy and rule of law. Yet, even before a recent trend of (re)autocratisation saw Cambodia shift from a “competitive” to a “hegemonic” model of authoritarianism, constitutional contestation was often assumed to be “muted,” with the document itself routinely dismissed a “façade” or a “sham.” An ethnographically-informed study of everyday practice, however, suggests that constitutional contestations have in fact been rife in Cambodia. Turning the spotlight away from the judicial institutions that typically assume centre-stage in the study of constitutions, this book-project highlights the extent to which opposition political figures, Buddhist monks, social movements, NGOs, community groups, artists and other laypeople in Cambodia mobilise constitutional ideas and reshape constitutional meaning “from below.” Acknowledging the everyday social, cultural and political significance of constitutions, the project suggests, brings to light otherwise overshadowed processes through which they are translated into practice by a diverse array of actors who are rarely attributed constitutional agency. As such, this project aims to provide both an in-depth, empirically grounded account of the everyday functioning of a largely overlooked constitutional order, and a critical contribution to wider field of comparative constitutional studies scholarship.

About Benjamin Lawrence:
A Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Centre for Asian Legal Studies (CALS) and a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics’ Southeast Asia Centre (SEAC), Ben’s work sits at the intersection of comparative constitutional law, politics, and socio-legal studies, focusing particularly on Southeast Asia. Ben has published in journals such as the Journal of Law and Religion, Contemporary Southeast Asia, Legal Pluralism and Critical Social Analysis, the Asian Journal of Comparative Law, and the Asian Journal of Law & Society, as well as contributing chapters to the edited volumes ‘Buddhism and Comparative Constitutional Law’ (CUP), edited by Tom Ginsburg and Benjamin Schonthal, and the ‘Routledge Handbook of Asian Parliaments.’ Currently, Ben is finalising his monograph, titled In the Shadow of the Constitution: the Micropolitics of Constitutional Contestation in Cambodia, which is under contract with Cambridge University Press. A graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (M.A), and the University of Victoria, Canada (Ph.D.), Ben has also worked with a number of international organisations, including the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and the European External Action Service.

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